Thirteen years ago, Colombian-born entrepreneur Claudia Mirza and her husband, Azam, a native of India, co-founded Akorbi, a language-translation business based in Plano, Texas. Today, Akorbi has grown into a global business-solutions firm, providing localization services and multilingual staffing and marketing to companies such as Google, Aetna, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. The company employs 670 people in the United States and 200 people overseas, and is on track to close $40 million in revenue this year. Despite Akorbi’s success, Mirza says the business is missing out on money — and losing the chance to create jobs.
“Due to the nature of our business — high-tech, specialized jobs — we just can’t restrict ourselves to our own ZIP code,” Mirza says of her company hiring. “I had a job posting for a web developer recently, and it took me more than six months to fill in Plano. In India, I would have had 300 applicants in the first day.” With U.S. employers hungry for qualified employees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Mirza believes the solution, in part, is to provide undocumented immigrants an easier path to legalization. “It’s negligent for us to have 11 million people roaming the streets of America — and it doesn’t matter what political party is going to be taking over in 2017, it’s still negligent,” she says. “We are missing out on these qualified people, professionals, who can pay taxes and do good for our economy.”
Mirza is also losing out on talent, she says, because of restrictions when it comes to hiring international employees. “I had interviewed a very qualified Chinese student with years of experience working in localization businesses,” she says. But he didn’t win a visa in the lottery for high-skilled workers and was sent home. “That’s where you lose your time investment and your money. If we don’t create jobs for innovation and engineering, companies will move overseas. So I’d rather bring those people here and create work in the United States.”
Mirza is no stranger to hard work, or to the struggles that come with immigration. Born in Colombia and raised in poverty, Mirza attended private school in Columbia on a coveted scholarship while her father worked as an agricultural hand in the United States. Attempts to bring Mirza to the United States led to a decade and a half of waiting, so after she finished college, Mirza finally reunited with her father on a U.S. tourist visa. She has since earned a degree from DeVry Institute of Technology and completed an executive training program at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. She is now a U.S. citizen.
“I have never stopped working hard a day in my life to achieve my goals,” says Mirza, who has been repeatedly recognized by local organizations and publications for her contributions to the community. “I want to move this economy forward. Eleven million people! They are qualified. They can become active and productive members of society. That’s my struggle. The negligence.”